20 July 2009

Space -- the Final Frontier (it really is, you know)

I did see the Apollo 11 Moon Landing. I really did, but I don't remember it. I was a few days shy of 3 years old on July 20, 1969. My parents woke me up and plopped me in front of the TV, but I have no recollection of it. I've seen the pictures -- me sitting in front of a big greenish-looking, very curved TV screen, set in a wooden cabinet.

My equivalent to the moon landing (in my memory) was the first shuttle launch. I watched it on the TV in my parents' bedroom, before school started that day. It was mind-blowing to a science fiction fan like myself -- we were heading out into space in a reusable rocket! I remember thinking "maybe I can take a vacation on the moon, when I'm old, like 40." Unfortunately, I am now over 40, and I can't see touristy-space travel for regular folks during my lifetime. Maybe in TPT's lifetime. I hope she goes to the moon, space stations, Mars, wherever she wants to go. I also remember distinctly when Sally Ride went up in Challenger. At that point, I really wanted to be an astronaut, but knew that would never be (if only because I get seasick on a calm lake, along with specific health reasons). However, my abiding love of science fiction and interest in space has never dimmed.

The closest I've come to space was having the opportunity to watch a real shuttle orbiter launch. One of TheHusband's best friends (and now a good friend of mine) has worked at NASA for years. NASA workers apparently can place their names on a list for shuttle launches -- names are picked in a lottery-like fashion. Well, her name came up in 2000. I was at work in September 2000, when something like the following conversation occurred:

    (ring, ring)
    Neurondoc: Hello?
    TheHusband: Hi. I'll be home late tonight.
    ND: Okay.
    TH: Oh, I talked to C today. She called.
    ND: What's up?
    TH: She wanted to know if we were interested in coming down with her to see a space shuttle launch. I said it seemed interesting but that I'd have to discuss it with you.
    ND (after my jaw hit the desk and my eyes bulged out of their sockets): You didn't say yes?
    TH: No. Why? Do you want to go?
    ND: YES! YES! How come you didn't tell her yes? What if she asks someone else? I want to go. I'm dying to go!
    TH (clearly thinking that his wife has gone off the deep end): Well, how was I supposed to know without talking to you? You always get mad if I make plans without telling you about it first. I'm sure she hasn't asked anyone else yet. She said she'd wait to hear from us first.
    ND (irrational, as any wife is allowed to be): This is different. You should've said yes right away!
    TH: Then why don't you call C and talk directly to her.
    ND: WHAT'S HER NUMBER?
TH gave me C's number and I called her directly. In the intervening 7 minutes since TH had talked to her, she had indeed not asked anyone else, so we got to go to a shuttle launch and sit in the NASA bleachers with the other "VIPs" (not the families of the astronauts -- they are segregated in a separate area, ever since the Challenger disaster). It was amazing. We were as close as one gets to a launch -- 3.2 miles from the launch pad. The viewing site is near the Apollo/Saturn V Center, and the launch was from LC-39A, about 3.2 miles away. If you look on this map, you can see where we sat (next to #1) vs. where the launch pad was (#13).

The launch was STS-97, Endeavour's 15th mission, with planned liftoff at around 10 pm on 11/30/2000. We had to be there a few hours in advance to catch the bus from Kennedy Space Center's main parking area to the viewing site. We had special tickets which allowed us onto the grounds of KSC -- the rabble wasn't allowed in -- and these tickets also got us onto the buses.

It was a night launch, which was good and bad. The launch site was well-lit, as was the area/bleachers where we sat. But we couldn't see the launch area or the shuttle well, as you can see in this picture (the shuttle is the biggest tiny light blob [right-most, bottom]). It was colder than we expected (it's Florida, right?), so we ended up buying one of those mylar space blankets, which kept us warm. The atmosphere in that area was really electric. People were milling around, sitting down, visiting the Apollo/Saturn V Center, taking pictures, chatting.

We climbed up to the second row from the top of the bleachers, figuring to get an unobstructed view (and 4 seats together). We chatted with the people around us. The family sitting behind us was at their 3rd launch -- they still hadn't seen a shuttle actually lift-off, because the previous 2 times they'd come, the launches had been delayed. There was an enormous digital countdown clock (for some reason, I don't have a picture of that), and the actual launch communication between Cape Canaveral and the shuttle itself was broadcast over large speakers. I am not much of a photographer, but I have a little knowledge of film cameras (we bought our first digital camera about 6 months after the launch). I bought high speed film (1000 speed), because I knew a flash would be useless.

Endeavour lifted off on the first try, which was beyond-words-amazing. It actually was bright as day for a few brief seconds...

    Unfortunately, since Launch Day was the 1st day of our vacation, everything after it was a bit of a let-down.

    One funny coincidence -- I was talking to one of my regular patients about 3 months later, and he had been at the same launch, but along the causeway, about 6 (?) miles away.

    3 comments:

    ntsc said...

    Watched Space Lab go up in 73. They simply turned the 4-lane outside the space center into a parking lot.

    Last of the Saturn V launches. The ground shook.

    neurondoc said...

    Cool, ntsc! The air shook sort of shook for the shuttle -- it was noisy!

    I was 7 in 1973. :-)

    Ak Minority Report said...

    I was 9 in 69. i remember the moon landing very clearly. Although the images weren't very easy to see. My Dad worked on the communications ring for Apollo. Coincidentally it was also my parents wedding anniversary. I can hardly believe it was so long ago.